Centers Offer Veterans Distinctly Qualified Assistance
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2005 Combat veterans dealing with readjustment issues as they return home have a place to turn, thanks to a Department of Veterans Affairs initiative.
The Vet Center program provides returning veterans with someone to talk to who can relate to their experiences.
Former Army Cpl. Rafiq Raza of Orlando, Fla., is one of about 100 "global war on terror outreach technicians" working for the Vet Center program. Like his colleagues, he is a combat veteran, which gives him an edge in his job, he said.
Raza said his two tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst with the 10th Mountain Division make him credible. "It's one thing to send a stranger in front of a group of troops who have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and let them know about services available," he said. "It's really different when you actually have someone who's been there and put the boots on."
The technicians are charged with find returning combat veterans in their communities and letting them know they have someplace to go if they need help readjusting to life after the war.
"I ... let them know that there's help out there for them if they need it. There's a place within the community that they can go that's kind of outside the official walls of the Department of Veterans (Affairs) and the clinical side of the VA," Raza said.
He called the center "a safe, friendly environment located within the community."
"It's a good place to be," Raza explained, "and your counselor knows exactly what you're going through, because most of your counselors are combat vets."
Those hesitant to talk about readjustment issues -- emotional trauma or family problems, for example -- for fear of jeopardizing training or promotion opportunities shouldn't worry, he said. The Vet centers don't share records with anyone. So what is said stays between the veteran and the counselor, Raza emphasized.
Originally established in 1979 to assist Vietnam veterans, the centers are user-friendly, said Charlie Flora, associate director of the Vet Center program's readjustment counseling service.
"They are integrated into the community," he said. "We have no waiting lists to see people, (and) we provide community outreach, education, case management, referral services and professional counseling."
The centers also provide psychotherapy for war trauma and social, family and economic readjustment problems, Flora said. But outreach is key to veterans discovering any of these services.
While most veterans that Raza has talked to tend to be from reserve components, he said, the program is available to all combat veterans, including active duty, for life. A table detailing eligibility can be found on the Vet Center's Web site, www.va.gov/rcs.
"If a vet needs somebody to talk to, then that's what we're here for," Raza said. "You can tell if someone has something that they need to talk about just by looking in their eyes. Those people, we kind of try to encourage them to seek some kind of, any kind of, help."
Vet center with outreach programs are in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Exact locations and contact information are on the Vet Center Web site or by calling the Veterans Affairs Department directly at toll-free (800) 827-1000.
To date, the Vet Center's readjustment counseling service has seen about 45,000 global war on terror veterans and their families, Flora said.